Groovin’ With The King (Soul September 11th 1971)

The Top 10 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week can take a backseat this time around. The highest of the 10 new entries on the chart is such a great record that we will get straight to that then it really should be no problem to to select another two of the higher numbers from lower down the page.

How much do I love the voice of Overton Vertis Wright? Flipping loads! 50 years ago I was just 18, you know what I mean. Young & in love, leaving my parent’s home for new adventures in a town 150 miles away, dumb as a box of hair. Everything was new, that’s the way I liked it & Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Soul innovators, were the soundtrack to the excitement & anticipation. The deep Southern Soul of O.V. Wright seemed, I’ll admit, a little staid. I knew nothing about the pain of loss, heartbreak & the tribulations Life brings. Now I’m almost grown (huh!) & have a greater experience of all that tricky stuff, I believe that O.V. is one of the singers (it’s a short list) who is able to communicate & illuminate these feelings most honestly & convincingly.

O.V. Wright 1970 Detroit, MI Jumbo Globe Concert Poster.... Music | Lot  #89880 | Heritage Auctions

“A Nickel & A Nail” entered the chart at #45, O.V. had started his recording career with two R&B Top 10 hits but, while popular in the southern states, he never emulated the success of some of his contemporaries. His Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers also included James Carr (blimey!). The pair went to Goldwax Records together but O.V. had signed a contract with the smaller Back Beat label whose owner Don Robey always (as Deadric Malone) seemed to have songwriting credit. A run of fine 45s brought the involvement in the late 1960s of producer Willie Mitchell & when Willie got his own thing going at Royal Studio in Memphis he brought O.V. along. With the Hi (Records) Rhythm Section & the Memphis Horns the backing was sweeter & stronger though never overpowering his intense, immaculate vocals. Yeah, there have now been times when all I’ve had in my pocket was a nickel & a nail & O.V. Wright sounds like he has too. That’s the Blues.

O.V. Wright (Overton Vertis Wright) | Facebook

O.V.’s run at Hi Records was interrupted by his involvement with narcotics leading to jail time. After a 4 year break he resumed recording in 1977. Such were the times that the music was now Disco-inflected but O.V. still sang it like it was. His take on Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, part of a 10 minute long medley, is spine-tingling & “Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose)” is just too much. In September 1979 the Hi band (with the three Hodges brothers) got together with O.V. for a tour of Japan. Looking frail, a little sick & tired of being sick & tired, his voice is still a wonder, the resulting live album is a run through his career & a triumph of Memphis Soul, O.V.’s testification made all the more poignant by his fatal heart attack, at the age of 41, in the following year. O. V., you’re gonna make me cry.

Now this is an odd one. Just making the chart at #59 this week is “Groovin’ Out On Life” by Frederick II. I know the song from the original Jamaican hit by Hopeton Lewis, a lovely version by Dennis Brown, recorded at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd when the singer was just 14 years old & its inclusion on Nolan Porter’s 1972 album “Nolan” but Frederick II, you got me there. It turns out that there’s not a long-lost recording by the briefly King of Prussia (March 1888 – June 1888) but that this is the Nolan Porter track issued under a different name & that’s nothing but a good thing!

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

If Nolan Porter was not in with the In Crowd of Los Angeles then he was certainly in with an In Crowd. His producer Gabriel Melker had been responsible for records by Steppenwolf (“Born To Be Wild”!), Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin & others. Married to Frank Zappa’s, off of the Mothers of Invention, sister Candy, Nolan was able to recruit the assistance of the members of Little Feat, soon to be the coolest band on this planet. Subsequently a little more Rock innovation was added to the Soul, well-chosen cover versions (Booker T Jones, Randy Newman, a Little Feat song) were mixed with his own compositions. It was a prescription that served Rod Stewart pretty well in 1971. A 45, “I Like What You Give”, was a small R&B hit but the LP “No Apologies” by simply “Nolan” failed to register. Anyway there was always Frederick II.

Stone Foundation on Twitter: "There aren't enough words on here to express  our sadness in the passing today of our dear friend and brother Nolan Porter.  You taught us so much in

In 1968 Desmond Dekker’s sensational “The Israelites”, a #1 in the UK, reached the US Pop Top 10 but Jamaican music had not made the same impression there as it had on this side of the Atlantic. There were two Reggae songs on Nolan’s re-mixed, re-shuffled (four new tracks) & re-released album & “Groovin’…” is a pretty sweet tune even if the L.A. boys don’t totally re-create the depth & feel that the JA studio cats could play all day, every day. Is this the first US Reggae record to make the R&B chart? Nolan’s record company went bust & that was it from him. His music was distinctive & good enough to attract devotion in UK Northern Soul clubs then enthusiasm from younger listeners. “If I Could Only Be Sure” & “Keep On Keeping On” (the riff borrowed by Joy Division for “Interzone”) are the “hits” but all of Nolan Porter is worth checking out.

Funkadelic : Live At Meadowbrook 1971 (Vinyl Reissue) : Aquarium Drunkard

Just sneaking on to this week’s chart at #60 is a track taken from “Maggot Brain”, the third album released by Funkadelic in 14 months. George Clinton’s vocal group, the Parliaments had integrated with its backing band to create an amalgamation who set off on a lysergically-fuelled magical mystery expedition, where the rules are that there are none, in search of that “way back yonder Funk”. The group’s first two records laid the foundation of the Funkadelic P-Funk credo, “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow”, psychedelia energetically & free spiritedly combined with many Black & Rock influences, always music you could dance to. George encouraged the talented musicians he had assembled to express themselves & “Maggot Brain” is the realisation of their ideas about forging something modern, different & individual. It’s a landmark record.

Funkadelic & The Parliament gig flyer, 1971: OldSchoolCool

The acoustic guitar intro to “Can You Get To That” is pretty calming after the opening title track, a 10 minute long intense mind-melting instrumental led with rare skill & emotion by guitarist Eddie Hazel who knew that the talent of Jimi Hendrix was as much from the heart as well as the hands. “Can You…” is Gospel reinforced by Funk,the vocals by Isaac Hayes’ backing singers Hot Buttered Soul,& it’s as catchy as heck. Funkadelic enjoyed modest success with their records & it would be their ninth studio album, in 1978, before a platinum disc arrived. George was ready with a stadium-filling space spectacular based around some Mothership craziness & innovative, inspired music. “One Nation Under A Groove” is undoubtedly a great, still influential album. I prefer Funkadelic from 1971 when they had “rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps”.

In 2013 Jeff Tweedy, off of Wilco, got back together with Mavis Staples to record a successor to the album “You Are Not Alone” from three years earlier. Mavis, a Queen of Soul with her family band, can make any song better with her presence & passion & “Can You Get To That”, from “One True Vine” was a perfect candidate for revival. I try not to post phone clips but I will never get enough moving pictures of Mavis & her fine touring band. She takes you there!

It’s A Love Rights Thing (Soul August 28th 1971)

As a compilation of Aretha Franklin’s hit records had been released only two years previously, for the 1971 “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” collection the singer recorded three cover versions that had not been included on either singles or albums. In May “Bridge Over Troubled Water” had become the tenth of her 45s to hit the #1 spot on the R&B chart. “Spanish Harlem”, climbing two slots to #2 on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago, was just a week away from being her eleventh. 1971 was, as if there was any doubt, the year that Aretha’s “Queen of Soul” title was confirmed.

Spanish Harlem - As performed by Jimmy Justice, Aretha Franklin, Norrie  Pramor and Ben E King only £10.00

In 1960 Pop prodigy Phil Spector, just 20 years old, had flown across the US to network with the great & good of New York’s R&B music community. Ace writer/producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller were working on material for Ben E King, the lead voice on enduring hits they had crafted for the Drifters. “Spanish Harlem” was written by Spector & Leiber, though I’m sure that Stoller was in the room too, & it provided the singer with his first major hit. A couple of tunes Spector had written with lyricist Doc Pomus were recorded at the same session as was “Stand By Me” & we all know how that one goes. The original had the slow samba baion rhythm so popular in NY at the time. Aretha added a little pace, a little Funk, changed the red rose to black & the song was a hit again.

This was the second time that Ms Franklin had revived a King tune. In 1970 “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, one from 1962, had been another R&B #1. “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” was to be released in September, her “Live At The Fillmore West”, a great achievement, had come around earlier in March. A nonpareil singer was at her commercial & artistic peak. She had the “Young Gifted & Black” album ready to go, a record that included five songs that made the R&B Top 10. Even Aretha’s B-sides were making the chart in 1971.

Laura Lee – Women's Love Rights (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

Women were representing for the Hot Wax/Invictus labels, the operation set up by the crack team Holland-Dozier-Holland on moving across Detroit from Tamla Motown. The vocal trio Honey Cone are at #7 with “Stick Up”, on its way to emulating the chart-topping “Want Ads” while Freda Payne, known for “Band Of Gold”, had “Bring the Boys Back Home”, sweet Soul with a rock hard centre of Vietnam protest, a message that got itself banned by the overseas American Forces Network. Up three places to #32 is a singer who is possibly less remembered but Laura Lee’s “Women’s Love Rights” had got it going on.

Laura Lee was from the pool of Detroit talent who joined a new label where their potential could be more realised. She had sung & recorded with the Meditation Singers since she was a pre-teen, having a couple of solo Top20 R&B hits in 1967 when Chess Records sent her down to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. Back in Detroit she was matched with one of the less heralded former Motown staffers William Weatherspoon who had co-written “What Becomes Of the Broken Hearted” & other great hits for Jimmy Ruffin while also producing the attention-grabbing orchestral “When You’re Young & In Love” by the Marvelettes. The two talents proved to be in synch.

Laura Lee | Discography | Discogs

With a strong, assertive voice to write for Weatherspoon, together with Angelo Gold who also had a credit on the Freda Payne single, provided Laura with plenty of attitude. You better be a do right man or else, as “Women’s Love Rights” says “Love who you wanna ’cause a man is sure gonna”. The song was the title track of an album with titles like “I Don’t Want Nothin’ Old (But Money)” & “It’s Not What You Fall For, It’s What You Stand For”. I’m not sure if they were but it really does sound like the Funk Brothers were moonlighting at the Town Theatre studio because the whole thing absolutely grooves. A further LP, “Two Sides Of…” combined imaginative cover versions with more smoking, sturdy originals. Unfortunately as Hot Wax/Invictus folded Laura became seriously ill & retired from music for some years before returning to Gospel. Around this time Millie Jackson was mining a similar seam on the theme of modern love, selling millions of albums that were no spunkier or funkier than the two Laura Lee made.

The Gambler by Ralfi Pagan

Ralfi Pagan, from the Bronx, New York, had first recorded as Ray Paige before signing with Fania Records, a label started by bandleader Johnny Pacheco as an outlet & showcase for the Latin music community of the city. Ralfi’s debut album, all in Spanish then re-released with a couple of songs in American highlighted some fine, romantic, falsetto balladry. Young & handsome, Ralfi’s sweet Latin Soul was very popular. “Make It With You”, #35 this week, a cover version of David Gates’ song for Bread, a hit in 1970, is embellished by his delicate, emotional voice, expanded by an excellent arrangement. It was in 1971 that the Fania All Stars, an assembly of stellar Latin musicians, played their “Live At the Cheetah” concert which, when released, deservedly gained them worldwide reputation & recognition of Salsa. Some of these guys were in the studio making Ralfi’s music & it is certainly classy. A particular tip of the fedora to the guitarist.

The singer moved to Los Angeles & was a success with the Californian Chicano audiences. In 1978 Ralfi was touring in Colombia when his body was found on a local beach. Accepted as a murder the case remains unresolved. His brother puts the finger on an unnamed promoter/business associate while there are more lurid versions involving cocaine. I’m not looking for clues so I’ll just say that Ralfi Pagan was 30 years old when he died. As the appreciation of Latin music grew surely such a honeyed, individual voice as his would have become more widely known.

It’s The Keeping It Real Thing (Soul August 14th 1971)

The Top 3 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for August 14th of 50 years ago was packed by the heavy hitters of Soul. “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye displaced James Brown at the top spot while the Isley Brothers remained at #3. The two fastest rising records in the Top 10 were both by groups finding themselves in such exalted company for the first time. I am not too familiar with the bands or the tunes but they are both pretty, pretty good so let’s get to it with those two.

Label: Phil-L.A. of Soul - Rate Your Music

In 1971 Philadelphia, through the two partnerships of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff with Thom Bell & Linda Creed, a Philly identity was being established that would emulate the commercial success of Soul music from Detroit, Chicago & Memphis. A melodic, string drenched sound which, according to James Brown’s trombonist Fred Wesley was “putting the bow tie on Funk”. Two of the most recent hits from the City of Brotherly Love had been released by the Phil-LA of Soul label (it’s a fishy pun, say it quickly), a conduit for local talent & for what was happening down in Miami. Both “Boogaloo Down Broadway” by the Fantastic Johnny C & Cliff Nobles & Co’s “The Horse” were distinctive, danceable, deserved but surprise hits & the small label was unable to follow up such success. This week, with “I Likes To Do It” by The People’s Choice, rising five places to #5, they had found themselves another break out hit.

Amazon Music - The People's ChoiceのI Likes to Do It - Amazon.co.jp

There had been a People’s Choice recording out of Detroit before Frankie Brunson & David Thompson took that name for their new Philadelphia band in 1971. Brunson had made solo records in the 50s & 60s as well as being a member of the Fashions alongside Thompson. He wrote & played keyboards on “I Likes To Do It”, their debut 45 for Phil-LA & what a groovy record it is. Like a funky Ramsey Lewis Trio, not as Jazz-based but with the same simple, insistent, toe-tapping groove. Very nice. There was no big successor to “I Likes…”, no album recorded for the label. The group had been spotted by Gamble & Huff & in 1975 moved across to Sigma Sound Studios to record the “Boogie Down USA” album. The lead single “Do It Any Way You Wanna”, as funky as Philly Soul had ever been, was an R&B #1, Top 20 Pop smash & a proto-Disco international hit.

There’s not much I know about Electric Express. A group from Greensboro, N. Carolina, their debut 45, “It’s the Real Thing” was moving on up a healthy 6 rungs of the chart ladder to #10. There were only to three more singles after this hit, all four written by band members James Powell & Vick Hudson & despite “I Can’t Believe We Did (the Whole Thing)” being on the larger Avco label an album was never forthcoming. “It’s The Real Thing” certainly is, Part 1 is a raw, saxophone led stone Funk groove, the other records are too. All the members of Electric Express are fondly remembered by family & friends in Greensboro & nights at The Carlotta Supper Club or The El Rocco Supper Club on Market St with the group laying it down sound like a great time. In fact any club playing Electric Express & the People’s Choice in 1971 is our kind of place.

45cat - The Persuaders - Thin Line Between Love And Hate / Thigh Spy - Atco  - USA - 45-6822

OK, “the sweetest woman in the world can be the meanest woman in the world, if you make her that way”. On it’s second week in the chart, rising a healthy 11 places to #39 (pop pickers), The Persuaders, a vocal group begun in New York by former members of the Independents & the Topics, were crossing the “Thin Line Between Love & Hate”. By the second verse lead singer Donald “Smokey” Scott is “laid in the hospital, bandaged from feet to head”!. It’s a cautionary tale, distinctive, dramatic & catching enough ears to eventually spend two weeks at the top of the listings of October 1971. “Thin Line…” was written by the Poindexter Brothers, Robert & Richard, along with Jackie Members, Robert’s wife. The subsequent album, a Poindexter’s production, highlighted the vocal adroitness of the quartet & included “Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)”, another R&B Top 10 hit.

In 1974, with only Scott remaining from the original line up, the Persuaders were sent to Philadelphia to capture some of the shimmering sound that was sweeping the nation. Their third album was produced by the writer/producer trio called the Young Professionals who included Tony Bell, the younger brother of the famous Thom. From this came the group’s third & final entry into the R&B Top 10. “Some Guys Have All The Luck” has been covered by Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart & Maxi Priest. It’s a sweet Philly Soul cracker.

Stays On My Mind (Soul July 31st 1971)

The Top 10 records on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week were the same as the week before only in a slightly reshuffled order. Gladys Knight & her Pips had enjoyed just one week at #1 with “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” & was now replaced by the impressively double bracketed “Hot Pants (Part 1) (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants), the 11th time that James Brown had hit the top spot. The most recent release of these 10 was a song that was initially slated to be a single for the Temptations but the departure of lead vocalist Eddie Kendricks for a solo career in March 1971 meant that a Plan B was required. Producer Norman Whitfield took his song “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, cut from over 12 minutes to under 4, re-recorded it with his Psychedelic Soul proteges, the Undisputed Truth & made the hit it was always going to be. Anyways, we looked at these big hits in the last post & there are other great artists & records, some of my favourites, further down the listing so let’s get to that.

Barbara Lynn | Letterpress poster, Vintage music art, Jazz poster

Way back when I first invited the World Wide Web into the house it brought along a Y-tube clip from 1966 of Barbara Lynn performing “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”, her hit from four years earlier. I was convinced that me & this new e-world would be getting along just fine. An R&B prime cut, filmed in colour an elegant young woman singing her own song, playing her guitar left-handed just like Jimi, the whole package just seemed so assured, so modern. Barbara was just 20 when she made the 265 mile journey to New Orleans to record with Huey P Meaux, “the Crazy Cajun”. “…Good Thing”, her debut, was such a success that she was able to record regularly in the next few years. One of her songs “Oh Baby (We’ve Got a Good Thing Goin’)” was covered by the Rolling Stones in 1965. It was Meaux’ connections in the music business that got Barbara signed to Atlantic in 1967 & in the following year “Here Is Barbara Lynn”, an album recorded in Mississippi with Meaux was released.

Barbara Lynn | Sheila B | Page 2

“(Until Then) I’ll Suffer”, rising from #52 to #46 on this week chart is a 1971 release lifted from that three year old album. It appears to have been the b-side of “Take Your Love and Run”, another cut from a record that seemed to point Barbara towards sub-Motown Soul stompers which were good enough but it was the five songs she wrote, where the Blues was added to her Gulf Coast Soul that stood out. It is no surprise that “(Until Then) I’ll Suffer” in the style of “…Good Thing”, recognisably a Barbara Lynn joint, was the side preferred by radio stations. Any plans for new material from her were stalled by the imprisonment of Huey Meaux after a conviction under the Mann Act for transporting an underage female across state line for immoral purposes (later things got worse for Huey). Barbara, a new wife & mother, stepped away & took 20 years off to raise her kids before returning to recording & touring, still looking, singing & playing just fine. There were plenty of people pleased to see her.

Denise LaSalle Lyrics, Song Meanings, Videos, Full Albums & Bios | SonicHits

I hope that you are able to spare three minutes to listen to a new entry at #58 to the Cash Box chart because “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” by Denise LaSalle is a wonderful thing. Denise had relocated from Mississippi to Chicago when she was a teenager. She was into her thirties before she began to record. It was perhaps this maturity showing when she & her husband Bill Jones set up their independent Crajon Enterprises company & negotiated a deal with Detroit’s Westbound label. It was certainly an astute move to go to Royal Studios in Memphis where producer Willie Mitchell was finessing a signature sound combining the melodic groove of his rhythm section with bright punchy interjections by the Memphis Horns. In 1971 Mitchell was establishing Al Green as a new force on the Soul scene & his arrangements for “Trapped By A Thing…” & Denise’s subsequent LP provided the same freshness. Eight of the eleven songs were written by Denise herself, she & her husband produced an album that is a fine, individual example of the way Southern Soul was heading. Incidentally the track “If You Should Loose Me” (sic) is a cover of Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”. Denise continued to write & record into the 21st century, her reputation as a “Blues Queen” fully justified.

In Jim Jarmusch’s fine Rock & Roll vampire movie “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013) Eve (Tilda Swinton, that’s the great…) is listening to Adam (Loki Hiddleston), her husband over many centuries, whinge on about the drawbacks of immortality, of waiting round to never die. She walks across the room to the turntable, selects “Trapped By This Thing Called Love” & says “How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living, It could be spent surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing”. Life affirming words & music indeed.

The Dells - The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind) / Freedom Means - Cadet -  USA - CA 5683 - 45cat

Ah, the mighty, mighty Dells, at #53 with their latest 45 “The Love We Had Stays On My Mind”. The quintet came together in 1953 as high school friends in Harvey, Illinois, just south of Chicago. “Oh What A Nite”, hit big in 1956, Johnny Carter (the new guy!) joined in 1962 & he, Marvin Junior, Chuck Barksdale, Michael McGill & Verne Allison were still together 50 years later. When, in 1966, their record company Vee-Jay declared bankruptcy a move across town to Chess Records led to a string of R&B hits with standards or material provided by producer Bobby Miller, finely tuned by ace arranger Charles Stepney. With the departure of Miller to Motown in 1969 Stepney took over production duties, continuing the ambitious, imaginative, urbane Soul vision he had pursued with the group Rotary Connection. In 1971, with the release of the “Freedom Means” album the Dells, already regarded as the most senior of the vocal groups, around since the days of Doo-Wop, were pushing the boundaries of melodic, harmonious Soul.

“Freedom Means” had its covers of well known songs along with six of the ten, including the title track & “The Love We Had…” written by Terry Callier, a Chicagoan friend of Curtis Mayfield & Jerry Butler. His mid-60s album “The New Folk of…” was embellished with Jazzy idiosyncrasy & now, as a Stepney protege, he was bringing a distinctiveness to the Dells. “The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke’s Greatest Hits” (1972) sounds a little more mainstream but blimey Bacharach & David’s modern classics are only enhanced by the vocals & arrangements. “Sweet As Funk Can Be” (also 1972), seven Callier/Wade compositions & one cover, is an almost-concept album, tracks linked by spoken segues & as far out as the Dells ever got. It is perhaps a taste to be acquired but the album does exactly what it says on the cover &, for what it’s worth, my one-word review is “Magnificent”.

The Dells – Sweet As Funk Can Be (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

The Dells were by no means Stepney’s surrogates. Chuck’s bass added texture while Michael & Verne had been doing their harmony thing for so long now that they absolutely had it down. The powerful baritone voice of Marvin Junior really is a special thing. You hear that, it’s the Dells. While Marvin came with the thunder he was set up & perfectly, uniquely complemented by the lightning of Johnny Carter’s range from tenor to falsetto. There’s much more to the group than sheer durability. As tastes in music changed the Dells made slight adjustments, always classy, elegant & relevant, ensuring their longevity. My good e-friend Jennifer Hannah Cocozza, a woman of immaculate taste, will tell anyone who cares to listen that Marvin Junior is the outstanding voice in a talented, crowded Soul field. I’m the guy stood behind her saying “Yeah, that’s right!”

This week’s live clip is from the same 1972 performance by the Dells on the landmark but short-lived “Soul” TV series. “Stay In My Corner” was a hit in 1965 the re-recorded three year later, becoming the group’s biggest R&B and Pop hit of the 1960s. Developed into an expanded onstage showstopper it showcases the amalgamated talents of the five while featuring the quite extraordinary alignment & blessing that Marvin & Johnny had refined. It does not get better than this.

Random Sightings July 2021

Right, the football season is finally over. England lost their first final in a major tournament for 55 years to an admittedly deserving Italian team by the width of a goal post in a penalty decider. I enjoyed the ride, being able to watch the games with a small group of family & friends was a pleasure after a year of garden meetings. I now have a few weeks when the pros & cons of the Video Assistant Referee or whether the England manager’s preference for the “double-pivot” would prove to be too defensive (it would) can be put on the back burner so let’s get back to throwing some of the good stuff that has crossed my path recently on to the blog. Is this keyboard still working?

Kevin Ayers | Progressive rock, Psychedelic bands, Music is life

In 1972 Kevin Ayers, a mainstay of the music scene in Canterbury, was, as was his habit, kicking back for a while. As a member of the Wilde Flowers & the Soft Machine he had contributed to the progressive/psychedelic improvisation & innovation that was characteristic of that city’s musical output. His three solo albums had a relaxed, whimsical, rather louche charm while retaining elements of surprise & exploration that made him such an original artist. The only live clips of Kevin from this time on the Y-tube are from “The Old Grey Whistle Test” with his group the Whole World. Now, this black & white clip of a solo performance has appeared & what a treat it is. The clip comes courtesy of an independent TV service produced by the Inner London Education Authority, a grouping responsible for the city’s schools which, like its parent administration the Greater London Council, was considered by Thatcher to be part of “the enemy within” & was subsequently abolished. The song, which Kevin explains “isn’t called anything” is “Hymn”, a track from his 1973 LP “Bananamour” & by heck it’s good.

Kevin Ayers – Rainbow Takeaway Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Sometime in 1972 I attended a midweek entertainment at my university that promised appearances by not only Kevin Ayers but also Syd Barrett, such an influential pioneer of Psychedelic Pop with Pink Floyd before his drug intake & mental fragility led to his withdrawal from the group. A chance to see two such individual British mavericks was a pretty good deal & we took our places cross-legged in front of the stage (it was 1972!) in anticipation. Syd had recorded two fascinating, honest solo albums in 1970 before his unavailability had encouraged the rumours & enhanced the legend. We had no idea of what Syd looked like now so assumed that as the figure setting up in the dark was not Kevin it probably was Syd. Unfortunately on his return to the stage a roadie was adjusting a microphone. The performer stormed off & was not to be seen again. That’s as close we ever got to see one of the great British psychedelic talents…or maybe not. Kevin Ayers saved the day with an intimate & (that word again) charming solo set of bohemian cabaret filled with songs that weren’t about anything, finishing with his version of Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling In Love Again”. Another good, interesting night out.

Stiller & Meara (@STILLERandMEARA) | Twitter

“The Ed Sullivan Show” was never shown in the UK. We knew it was a big deal in the States, our very own The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Sundays in February 1964, causing the same cultural tremors to which we were becoming accustomed. Pretty soon England was swinging like a pendulum do & we had a whole scene going on over here anyway. Over the past year the archives of the show have been regularly released on to the Y-Tube. The show aired from 1948 to 1971 & some of the earlier variety entertainment is a little moderate. Post Mersey Mania the bookers upped their musical game & while the house orchestra are by no means the Funk Brothers it’s always good to see regular guests the Supremes in their modish Motown glory. Of even more interest to myself is the chance to see a number of outstanding US comedians doing that very funny thing they do. I have records by Bob Newhart, George Carlin & Richard Pryor but have never seen their early stand-up routines. The Sullivan clips are introducing me to others who were at the top of their game but we never got to see.

Who was Jerry Stiller's wife Anne Meara?

I was aware that Ben Stiller’s father Jerry was a funny guy. I’d seen him playing George Costanza’s Dad in “Seinfeld”. He was the guy who put me on to Festivus. What I didn’t know was that in the 1960s he had been part of a successful double act & that his partner was Anne Meara, his wife, Ben’s Mum & a very funny guy too. There were 36 appearances on the Sullivan show & this sketch about computer dating (in 1966, in colour, imagine that) where Jewish Jerry meets Irish Catholic Anne, from the same neighbourhood but living separate lives, is short, sharp & eventually sweet. The cracks are wise, the affiliation obvious & attractive. In 1970, concerned about blurred lines between the act & her marriage, Anne stepped away to raise her kids. She later returned to films, TV & theatre including a run with Jerry in “The King of Queens”. Jerry & Anne were married, until her death in 2015, for 61 years, now that’s sweet too.

Harlem Cultural Festival - Wikipedia

Any regular visitor to this part of the Interweb will be aware that I am a little obsessed with that golden decade of Soul from 1965-75 so “Summer of Soul” has been, along with the upcoming Sopranos prequel, the most anticipated film of the year & it did not disappoint. The Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of free concerts in New York, was held across six weekends in the Summer of 1969. The events were filmed but despite the success of the “Woodstock” movie & the emerging “blaxploitation” genre there was no financial backing for any commercial release of the footage. Amhir “Questlove” Thompson, a man of multi-talents including playing drums for the Roots, making his directorial debut, has a very solid, impressive musical foundation on which to base his film. It starts with the Psychedelic Soul boys the Chambers Brothers rocking out with “Uptown” & Fifth Dimension, as Billy & Marilyn acknowledge, finding that playing to such a large black audience unwrapped a funky side that was rarely seen on their TV appearances, then the musical highlights keep on coming.

It’s difficult to top the emotional impact of a duet between Mavis Staples & Mahalia Jackson singing “Precious Lord Take My Hand”, a favourite of Martin Luther King & performed in his honour then along come Sly & the Family Stone, racially & gender diverse, boundless, infectious energy & one of the greatest groups ever. Stevie Wonder stakes his claim to being the funkiest individual in the world & the only word to describe Nina Simone is Goddess. All this music is carefully & expertly placed into the context of an assertiveness about the Black experience in the USA. There’s activism & anger about the Vietnam War, about police brutality & social inequality. There’s pride too in their community. The Harlemites who attended the concerts & those who are still around to tell about it want their stories to be heard & listened to. The unanimous dismissal in contemporary interviews of the Moon landing, a big deal for White America, is, as they would say in 1969, “Right On!”.

A Rose In A Fisted Glove (Soul July 10th 1971)

While “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight & Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” remained at the head of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for July 10th 1971 there was significant movement just below these hits. No less than five singles were newly welcomed to the Top 10 so this week’s review will not be crate-digging for barely remembered or perhaps never heard before songs from the lower reaches of the chart. Instead it’s big hits from big stars all the way. Let’s get to it.

The Isley Brothers○Love The One You're With○1971 - YouTube

In 1971 the Isley Brothers were a-changing just like the times. The sleeve of their current album featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly, the family band whose high-octane early 60s hits “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had appealed to the wild side of the British Invasion groups. A spell at Tamla Motown was perhaps more appreciated on the UK Soul scene than at home. In 1969 the self-written, produced & released “It’s Your Thing” celebrated the trio’s independence & established their Funk credentials. “Love the One You’re With”, rising a big 10 places to #4 on this week’s chart of 50 years ago was becoming their most successful single since then. Younger brother Ernie, then just 16 (!) had played bass on “It’s Your Thing” & was now the band’s guitarist, his bass duties taken up by little brother, 17 year old Marvin. Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper, another young gun, played keyboards so the Isleys had their own in-home & at the studio band. I don’t know if it was the regulars or all these young dudes who chose the songs for their new album, whatever, it was an inspired move, a step forward for the Isley Brothers.

the Isley Brothers | Members, Songs & Facts | Britannica

The “sounds crazy but it just might work” idea of “Givin’ It Back” was to cover contemporary, familiar hits by mainly white artists. So there’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain”, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” & “Spill The Wine” off of Eric Burdon & War. “Love the One You’re With” is one of two songs by Stephen Stills, ascendant as one quarter of Crosby Stills Nash & Young while rising star Bill Withers contributed & played on his song “Cold Bologna”. The album opens with “Ohio/Machine Gun”, Neil Young’s immediate & angry reaction to the killing of four Kent State students by the Ohio Army National Guard segues into a song by Jimi Hendrix, a former member of their backing band. The whole is nine minutes of incendiary, incisive militancy, an atmospheric arrangement, Ronald’s impassioned vocals matched by Ernie’s wailing guitar, influenced & inspired by his friend. This epic track invokes the now less-remembered fatal shooting of two black students at Jackson State a matter of days after the deaths in Ohio, it showcases the fresh energy of the Isley Brothers, confidently moving into social commentary & progressive Soul. Two albums down the line the album “3+3” recognised that the band now had six members who all had their first platinum record.

JAMES BROWN OLYMPIA PARIS DVD - 1971 COLOR - JAMES BROWN PARIS FRANCE

James Brown, Soul Brother #1, Mr Dynamite, The Godfather of Soul, Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk, had two records in this week’s Top 10. “Escape-ism (Part 1) rose three places to #6 while the impressively double-bracketed “Hot Pants (Part 1) (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)” flew from #16 to #5. After 14 years of recording for King Records these two 45s were the first releases on James’ People label, set up for him through his new deal with Polydor. In March of the previous year most of James’ road band had voiced their concerns about payment & quit. With live dates & recording sessions to fulfill “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” acted quickly by recruiting the Collins brothers, guitarist Catfish & bass player Bootsy, & the first release with this new young band, the J.B.’s, was “Get Up ( I Feel Like A Sex Machine)”. James was still getting on the scene, as popular as ever, same as it ever was. On a European tour in March 1971 disputes over money (again) & Bootsy’s lysergic indulgence left James without a band again. Stalwart trombonist Fred Wesley had returned to the fold, drummer Jabo Starks abided & the new J.B’s were assembled. These two current hits were the first recordings with his fresh crew.

Ad – The James Brown SuperFan Club

So the first album for Polydor can sound like the singer & the group jamming in the studio getting to know each other. On “Escape-ism (Part 2)” James spends three minutes asking his new allies where they are from! Still, musicians taking their chance to show the boss that they’re the guys to keep that distinctive, tight funky groove, with Fred as band leader there’s now a touch more brass in there & it all makes for a pretty good noise. “Hot Pants”, the title track, is the most structured of the cuts, it’s not one from the top shelf of James Brown classics, that’s a high shelf, but it’s on point, one of the great run of R&B hits he had for so long. Oh yeah, Hot Pants were a big fashion thing in 1971, ask your Grandma if she’s still got her’s.

Here’s another cover version taken from one of the singer-songwriters whose softer, acoustic rock was carrying the swing on the Pop Album charts in 1971. Carole King was already a US Pop legend for her compositions, written with her husband Gerry Goffin. Switching coasts from the Brill Building in New York to Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon she hung out with James Taylor & Joni Mitchell while recording her solo album “Tapestry”. “You’ve Got A Friend” was written in response to Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & his version, a #1 Pop hit, was released in June 1971. An R&B take on the Grammy “Song of the Year”, a duet by two rising stars of the genre, was shipped on the same day & this week rose to #9 on our chart.

Where Is The Love": Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's Collaborations |  WTTW Chicago

Donny Hathaway, from Chicago, was studying the noted Howard University when he was tempted by musical opportunities in his hometown. His name started to feature on records as a writer, arranger & producer & he worked with big names such as Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler & Betty Everett. Pretty soon he had a solo deal & in 1970, on “Everything Is Everything”, he displayed a sensitive, velvet voice to match his natural musicality. The record did not sell too well, even “The Ghetto (Part 1)”, a wonderful, influential, jazz-influenced groove, failed to make the mark it undoubtedly deserved & now has over time. Roberta Flack also studied at Howard, her talent earning a full scholarship at the age of just 15. Her progress was hindered by the death of her father & a return to her family home in North Carolina before a move to Washington D.C. & her appearances in the city’s nightclubs led to great appreciation of her talent. Like Donny Ms Flack was not an instant success, “First Take”, her 1969 debut, which included two songs by Hathaway, did not become a #1 hit until 1972 when Clint Eastwood employed “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (you know it) in his film “Play Misty For Me”. In 1971 the two friends, both talents of the highest class, were matched by Atlantic for an album of duets.

180 Donny hathaway ideas in 2021 | music, legacy projects, soul music

Together Donny & Roberta made a fine, mature album, the covers classic & contemporary, original songs are interesting, the combination of Jazz, R&B & Gospel influences are effective & mellifluous. “You’ve Got A Friend” will always be associated with King & Taylor but the more than a little bit of Soul added by Hathaway & Flack make it my personal preference. The album, recorded with the finest New York session players, was released in 1972 & with Roberta’s star newly ascendant “Where Is The Love” reached the Top 10 on the Pop chart. In the following years Roberta confirmed her unique ability to understand & possess a song, her interpretation becoming definitive & selling records to the millions of buyers who could hear this. Donny released a glorious live album including “…Friend”, Marvin’s “What’s Goin’ On” & John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. Unfortunately his erratic behaviour led to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia & he was prescribed extensive medication, a regime to which he did not always adhere. His progress stalled until a reunion with Roberta produced a major hit with “The Closer I Get To You” in 1978. While recording a planned album of duets, in January 1979 his behaviour in the studio was described as delusional & the session was aborted. That day he was found dead in the street below his 15th floor hotel; room. Donny Hathaway was just 33, a sad, terrible loss to the music world.

No video is available for this week’s live performance. This is the brilliant, extended version of “The Ghetto” from Donny’s “Live” album. We have these records so keep his memory is eternal.

Hot Stuff, Can’t Get Enough (Soul June 12th 1971)

50 years ago this week the great writing/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland were having it their way on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart. No longer employed by Tamla Motown, still working in Detroit with their Hot Wax/Invictus labels, two of their records were in the Top 4. “Want Ads” by Honey Cone was still toppermost of the poppermost & had been for a month while at #4 was a song that had been released as the b-side of the million selling “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof (Aged In Soul). Not wanting to put the brake on those sales “She’s Not Just Another Woman”, an urgent drum-propelled slice of pure Detroit Soul & an obvious hit, was re-released under the name 8th Day, a made-up name for a band that didn’t exist. H-D-H were better at making hits than doing business. At #2 the Wicked Wilson Pickett was enjoying his biggest success since 1967 with “Don’t Knock My Love” while the fastest rising record on the chart, this week’s #3, was a record that if you hear it this weekend you will smile & “Get Dancin'” like Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes just like all those record buyers from 50 years ago.

In May 1970 the spectacularly named Wardell Quezergue, a stalwart musician/producer of the New Orleans scene, borrowed a school bus to drive five artists the 200 miles to Jackson, Mississippi where he had made a deal to use the Malaco studio & the musicians who worked there. “Groove Me” by King Floyd was another b-side that was brought to the attention of Atlantic Records after local airplay. National distribution & better promotion made it the final #1 R&B record of 1970. Other labels showed interest in what Wardell had been up to & Tim Whitsett, head of publishing at Stax & a Jackson man, picked up a track from the session for release. This was “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, “who do you think you are?”, you know it.

Jet magazine August 12, 1971 Jean Knight | eBay

Jean Knight, from New Orleans, had recorded locally without much success & was working in Loyola University’s cafeteria when she was given the chance to work with Quezergue. “Mr Big Stuff” was an instant super smash, a month at the top of the R&B chart, #2 on the Pop listing, double platinum sales (that’s big numbers) & a Grammy nomination. This & the King Floyd record had the slip & slide of the Big Easy sound then added a clear funky punch, even slickness, that sounded very modern. “Mr Big Stuff” is a Stax favourite but it definitely ain’t from Memphis. They made Malaco’s reputation as a place to be & influenced the new Disco music coming out of TK Studios down in Florida. The success of the single led to a very engaging album of the same name, all original songs, no cover version filler. There are some big productions, the studio had the money, but it’s best when guitarist Jerry Puckett, bassist Vernie Robbins & James Stroud on drums are confidently doing their thing. Jean Knight didn’t make another album for a decade & though she did chart again she is remembered as a one-hit wonder & what a hit it is. “Mr Big Stuff” has been a fixture of sets by the UK’s premier DJ Norman Jay since his early “Shake & Fingerpop” times because he knows that it’s a dead stone dance floor filler.

Jet - February 4, 1971 | Jet magazine, Ebony magazine cover, Ebony magazine

Two versions of the same song were on this week’s Top 10, one by the teenage Soul sensations of the day, the other by a man who was discovering a new mass market for albums by a black artist. The Jackson 5’s version of “Never Can Say Goodbye”, a song written Clifton Davis, a songwriter working at Motown West, Los Angeles who later was more visible as an actor, was slipping to #9 having been at #1 for two weeks. Two places higher was a very different take by Isaac Hayes. When, in 1969, Stax found themselves at the wrong end of their deal with Atlantic & lost the rights to their back catalogue it was all hands on deck to provide new material. It was Hayes, best known for his writing partnership with David Porter & their great songs for Sam & Dave, who gave the label the hit they needed with his “Hot Buttered Soul” album. There were just the four tracks on “H.B.S.”, the modern classics, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” & “Walk On By” by Bacharach & David were 18 & 12 minutes respectively. Isaac had an ear for a great song then adapting it to an expansive arrangement over a steady groove & his deep authoritative voice. It was a formula that worked & it’s how he rolled on the two subsequent albums released in 1970. The 45s were not major hits but Stax were shipping long-playing discs by the lorryload.

Sasa of In Flagranti - Dalston Superstore

Isaac kept himself busy in 1971. “Never Can Say Goodbye” was the first track to be released from November’s double album “Black Moses”. This time the cover versions, interspersed with “Ike’s Raps”, included Curtis Mayfield & Kris Kristofferson. It’s a monumental work, a little stretched but the arrangements are original & all the elements that made his music so successful are present & in the correct place. A reduced by 90 seconds “Never..” was his biggest single yet, it’s a durable song, both a Discofied Gloria Gaynor (1974) & the High Energy of the Communards (1987) enjoyed hits with it. But hold on, Isaac was working on something else. In June 1971 his soundtrack to “Shaft” was a major factor in taking Blaxploitation movies uptown. The theme track was a #1 Pop hit as was the album, Isaac was dealing with Oscars, Grammy awards & major international recognition.

45cat - The Stylistics - Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) / Stop, Look,  Listen (To Your Heart) - Avco Embassy - USA - AVE-4572

Earlier in 1971 the debut single by the Stylistics from Philadelphia had made the R&B Top 10. “You’re A Big Girl Now” has a slightly clunky construction, a cheesy organ riff & distinctive, if idiosyncratic, drums. It’s great. For the album their label sent them to the local Sigma Sound Studios where Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff & Thom Bell were finessing a sweet Soul sound that became associated with the city & an influence on the development of popular music. Thom Bell had realised a shared symphonic soul vision with the Delfonics. Now he & his lyricist partner Linda Creed prepared eight new songs, custom built for their Stylistics project, four of which would join “You’re A Big Girl…” in entering the R&B Top 10. Rising four places to #27 was “Stop, Look (Listen to Your Heart)”, the first we heard of the way that the Philly Sound was headed.

The Stylistics - the Original Debut Album — The Stylistics | Last.fm

Bell employed the startling soprano voice of Russell Thompkins Jr as lead on all of the album tracks. The other stylists, Airrion Love, Herb Murrell, James Dunn & James Smith were around but, according to those who were too, it’s said that backing vocals were the work of the Sigma Sound crew. The studio band, soon to be world-known as MFSB, provided the gentle, lavish, string-laden grooves. The other cuts from the album were “You Are Everything”, “Betcha By Golly Wow” & the ambitious “People Make the World Go Round”. We know them all & after that run the group were established as a leading vocal group. There were to be two more albums from the Bell/Creed/Stylistics combination, more hits with Russell’s voice making them instantly recognisable. The City of Brotherly Love was making serious Soul Music waves. It will be impossible not to include more music from Philly in my selections from the next few years.

Songs of Innocence And Experience (Soul May 15th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago this week was topped by a song that, since its release in January of the preceding year, had spent six weeks at the top of the US Pop chart & become a much covered standard across the full spectrum of popular music. Andy Williams had pushed it into the middle of the road, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos were ready for the Country, three Motown acts had added a little bit of Soul & Elvis Presley recorded it in Nashville before including a show-stopping version in his Vegas act. In 1971 it was the turn of Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul” to release her Gospel-inflected take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” album. An edited single release, the one at #1 on the chart, sold two million copies & won the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys. We will get to this later.

The Honey Cone – Want Ads – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Well OK, “Wanted, young man single and free, experience in love preferred, but will accept a young trainee”. I’m sure that in 1971, after seeing Honey Cone perform their big hit “Want Ads”, climbing one place up to #3 on the chart, on its way to a month at #1, I would have been in that long queue. The trio, formed in Los Angeles, had all been 20 feet from stardom for some time. Featured vocalist Edna Wright was introduced to Phil Spector’s operation as her older sister Darlene Love was the producer’s singer of choice. Shelly Clark had been on Broadway as a 7 year old & spent a short time as an Ikette while Carolyn Willis sang on many sessions, joining Edna & Darlene in the Blossoms. They were signed by Holland-Dozier-Holland the great hitmakers who had left Motown & Honey Cone were the first 45 & album releases on their new Hot Wax label in 1969. H-D-H produced the “Take Me With You” LP & the majority of the songs were credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”. Dunbar was around the organisation but Holland-Dozier-Holland’s litigation over publishing with former boss Berry Gordy meant that they often used this pseudonym.

The Honey Cone Photo Gallery

This Motown pedigree did not bring instant success, though the singles “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” & “Girls It Ain’t Easy” sound pretty good to me. Honey Cone were not the new Supremes, with strong vocals & direct lyrics they were more like Martha & the Vandellas. A little work was put into “Want Ads” by General Johnson, off of Chairmen of the Board, & Greg Perry, both flourishing with their new mentors, to give the song that Pop-Soul bounce that had proved to be so commercial for the Jackson 5. The group had the sass & the style to be memorable & set the song on the way to the top of the R&B & Pop charts. There was another R&B #1, two more in the Top 10, all three made the Pop Top 30. Honey Cone were big, by the end of 1971, the cover of Jet magazine big. Unfortunately the owners of the label could not match their musical acuity in business & Honey Cone’s further releases were hindered by financial uncertainty before, in 1973, the Hot Wax/Invictus combo folded & so did the group. Honey Cone were a modern, modish girl-group whose influence became more apparent as time passed.

290. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - The Tears of a Clown (1970) - Every  UK Number 1

A consideration of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles up to 1971 leads to a couple of very long lists, one of the group’s hit records, the other of the songs written for others by the man whose name was at the front. I’ll give you three of each but I will be overlooking songs that were fundamental to the Miracles’ success & to that of their label Tamla Motown. “Shop Around” was, in 1960, Motown’s first million selling record, 1962’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” was covered by the Beatles on their second album & Smokey Robinson was known around the world, the perfect & poignant “Tracks of My Tears” (1965) is one for the ages. Smokey wrote, often with other Miracles, & produced “My Guy”, making Mary Wells the Queen of Motown, “My Girl” for the Temptations & 200 other artists, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” & I’ll stop there. In 1963 the Miracles, with Claudette, Mrs Robinson, still in the group, were topping the star-studded bill of the Motortown Revue, young Smokey’s audience-rousing energy a surprise as he was the sweetest & smoothest of the label’s artists. 1971 was a strange time for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Don't Blame You At All (1971, Vinyl) -  Discogs

Smokey’s association with Berry Gordy, head honcho at Motown, had begun before there was a label. His influence extended beyond being a star performer & a leading creative force. He was vice-president of the company where plans to move from Detroit to Los Angeles were at an advanced stage. With this upheaval & two young children it was known that Smokey intended to retire from performing with the Miracles. Concurrently over in the UK long-time Motown Mod club favourites were reaching a wider audience putting the Elgins & the Isley Brothers on the chart. A 1967 Miracles album track, “Tears of a Clown”, was released in 1970 & reached the top of the UK chart precipitating a US remixed version which provided the group with their fifth R&B #1 & the first time they had topped the Pop chart. It made both musical & business sense for Smokey to keep on keeping on. The follow-up to “Tears…” was at #8 for the third week on this week’s chart. “I Don’t Blame You At All” is a new song, slick, melodic, it invites you on to the dancefloor & is immediately recognisable as the Miracles. When Smokey sings…well!

Way back then my best friend & I were a couple of teenage music geeks who bought the weekly “Record Mirror”, the only place we could scan the US Top 50 charts for records that we could expect to cross the Atlantic in a month or so. A name we often saw, if not in the chart then in the new releases or “bubbling under”, was Bobby “Blue” Bland. We didn’t hear much of Bobby’s music, if it did get radio play then the show would be way past our bedtime & that smoky dive bar where they played the Blues existed only in our imaginations or a future Tarantino movie. The little we did hear sounded to our young ears a little restrained, even old-fashioned. The energetic Soul sounds of young America coming out of Memphis & Detroit were much more our glass of Dandelion & Burdock. I know, I was so much older then.

RIP Bobby "Blue" Bland - Sing Out!

Bobby Bland was part of an earlier generation of Memphis musicians, the Beale Streeters, who included Johnny Ace & B.B. King. He first recorded in 1951, finding success six years later when signed to Duke Records where he stayed for 20 years. The head of Duke, Don Robey’s, business practice included a tight control over publishing which led to his alias Deadric Malone being credited as the writer of many songs. Bland, disadvantaged by his illiteracy, was signed to a contract which paid reduced royalties consigning him to an arduous touring schedule to earn his living though the singer, aware of limited opportunities for an uneducated Black man, held little resentment towards Robey. Through the 1960s Bobby enjoyed consistent success on the R&B chart with only rare crossover on to the Pop listing. I can point you towards “I’ll Take Care Of You”, “Lead Me On” & “Turn On Your Lovelight” while his string of hits, with sophisticated arrangements by Joe Scott which added colour while Bobby sang the Blues without overwhelming a unique voice, is a formidable body of work. “I’m Sorry”, the highest new entry of the week at #44 is the latest of these fine songs.

Bobby Bland’s instrument was his voice, maturity & fine tuning adding a guttural growl to his rich sensual sweetness. He sang songs about the yearning for, the finding & the losing of Love with an impeccable emotionality, a sophistication & a comprehension that was unmatched. His brand of urban Blues, songs of experience, did not always have wide appeal but the more life you lived the more you understood & identified with this music for grown-ups. A move to a bigger label, with a wider choice of material & better promotion combined with repackaging of his Duke years brought a greater appreciation & recognition for Bobby, He truly was “The Voice”.

For this week’s live clip it’s back to that #1 record. Over the weekend 5th-7th of March 1971 Aretha Franklin played three explosive concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Backed by King Curtis’ super band, Billy Preston, the Memphis Horns & the Sweethearts of Soul Aretha mixed her back catalogue with contemporary hits in a dramatic, landmark live performance. There are, as far as I am aware, 564 versions of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, none of them are better than this one.

See You Later Oscillator (Malcolm Cecil)

I do like to think that I keep up with happenings in the world, at least those that interest & affect me. I mean I have the Internet & it’s all on there isn’t it. Unfortunately a combination with the current corona cull & being a man of a certain age has meant that in the past year there’s been just too much death in the news that has come my way. I was not affected by the recent expiration of a senior member of our royal family, nor by the excessive, often obsequious media coverage as I own a television that has an off switch. I was though surprised & saddened to only learn this week of the passing, three weeks ago, of Malcolm Cecil, a pioneer of & innovator in electronic music &, with his partner Robert Margouleff, more responsible for the introduction of new technology & its potential to mainstream music than anyone.

Londoner Malcolm was born into a musical family in 1937, his mother Edna being well known as “The Queen of the Accordion”. After a first professional gig as a 13 year old drummer he switched to double bass & made the Jazz scene with leading British musicians while backing visiting American stars as part of the resident band at Ronnie Scott’s club in the glittering West End with a daytime job in the BBC Radio Orchestra. An engineering education then a two year stretch in the Royal Air Force as a radar operator extended his interest in & knowledge of the technical side of recording. His understanding of the process led to the first 4-track studio in London which soon had become 16-track & demand for his services in Los Angeles & New York. In N.Y. he was referred to Media Sound Studio where Robert Margouleff was producing sound effects for advertising jingles on a Moog Series III. Galvanised by each other’s enthusiasm, with a whole lot of inspiration, innovation & access to the developing technology “The Original New Timbral Orchestra” was the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world, whatever that means T.O.N.T.O., 6 feet high, 25 feet in diameter & weighing a ton, was impressive.

Die or D.I.Y.?: Tonto's Expanding Head Band ‎– "Zero Time" (Embryo Records  ‎– SD 732) 1971

“Zero Time”, an album by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, was released in 1971. Recorded at Media Sound, entirely on synthesizers, the adventure stimulated the duo to create new sounds, grabbed on to tape from the analogue gear before they disappeared & even new gadgets to expand the machine’s range. These soundscapes (a new word back then) were undoubtedly helped by Cecil’s musicality & Jazz background, they had rapidly progressed from “how do you get a tune out of this thing?” to doing exactly that. With its Sci-Fi inspired tracks & psychedelic cover, in the early 1970’s the album was at the front of the stack, along with “Live/Dead” & “Gandharva”, an atmospheric piece by fellow Moog Droogs Beaver & Krause, for pleasant evenings sprawled on a large cushion with a small circle of friends & a microdot tab of L.S.D. each. “Zero Time” did not sell too well but was still noted. When Stevie Wonder asked to meet the pair he arrived carrying a copy under his arm.

Malcolm Cecil, Synthesizer Pioneer, Is Dead at 84 - The New York Times

Stevie Wonder was just 21 & his album “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) had marked a process of establishing his independence from the Tamla Motown organisation & his maturity as a writer & musician. On the majority of the record he had played a synth bass, now he was looking for new sounds on new instruments & his collaboration with the similarly eager Margouleff & Cecil proved to be monumental. With a new contract & full artistic control the quickly recorded “Music of My Mind” (1972) was more than a statement of intent. A critical rather than commercial success it gave the trio confidence to push it along even further. Bob & Malcolm found the sounds that Stevie could hear, setting the controls for the heart of the Funk, Stevie played the instruments while his partners rolled the tape. “Talking Book” (1972), “Innervisions” (1973) & “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974) were expressions of the genius of Stevie Wonder that progressed the sonic palette of popular music. Add in a record by his wife Syreeta & Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” & the trio were on a run. I could select any number of tracks to confirm that & it’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” with its adroit, avant-garde, fat, funky bassline that makes the cut today.

Such success meant that the pair were in demand as programmers, producers & engineers. Cecil set up the synths for Stephen Stills’ “Manassas”, the same on “Good Old Boys” for Randy Newman & Van Dyke Parks’ “The Clang of the Yankee Reaper”, all three favorites round here. It was with the Isley Brothers, a group that had an ear for what’s going on since the world was in monochrome, that the pair added value to a sound that sold on the “Live It Up” & “The Heat Is On” albums. In 1975 disagreements over credit & finance led to Wonder, Cecil & Margouleff going three separate ways. The family Isley stuck with Malcolm & he produced “Harvest For the World”, a song we all know.

With his own set up at T.O.N.T.O studios, Santa Monica, Malcolm continued to work with Billy Preston then in 1977 began a relationship with Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson, fellow students at Lincoln University Pennsylvania who, throughout the 1970s had combined Jackson’s Soul-Jazz grooves with Gil’s conscious poetry to create music that was to prove increasingly influential leading to Gil being recognised as a Rap pioneer. When Jackson left “Reflections” (1981) was overall an attempt to make a mainstream record that was not always successful. The album included “B Movie”, a 12 minute long salvo against the trivialisation of US politics, of nostalgia for a past that only existed on celluloid, of the desire for a president who embodied the masculine virtues of John Wayne & the reel to reality of the second-rater Ronald Ray-Gun (sound familiar?). Underpinned by another sensationally groovy bassline, Cecil produced a masterpiece where the music & the message meet in perfect euphony.

Stevie Wonder Remembers 'Genius' Co-Producer Malcolm Cecil - Rolling Stone

Since the first piano lessons at the age of three there had always been music in Malcolm’s Cecil’s life. He was of an age & temperament to have an inquisitiveness to obtain knowledge of developing technology in electronic music & its potential to change recording techniques. Of course he had contemporaries who were making their own contributions & breakthroughs in the field but none were making records that made the charts & sold in their millions. In a pre-digital age where experimentation & innovation was a necessity it was Cecil’s vision & musicality that transformed the squawks & squonks of a machine into a key, now commonplace, development in modern music. A restored, playable T.O.N.T.O. is now in the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta & until his death Malcolm would lecture on & demonstrate his amazing device.

I’ll close with a track by Little Feat from their great “Dixie Chicken” record. I had always assumed that Bill Payne played all the keyboards on their albums but on “Kiss It Off”, a diversion from the group’s developing sultry Country Funk, Cecil’s work, programming & probably playing, transforms Lowell George’s mournful ballad into an atmospheric, experimental treat.

It’s What’s Happening (Soul April 17th 1971)

This week’s review of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart of 50 years ago is a big one. On the previous listings for April 10th “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations ended its month long stint at the top spot. It was replaced by a song that became the title track of my favourite album of all time. So, I had better get this right. Here we go.

Your Morning Shot: Marvin Gaye, 1973 | GQ

The title of a definitive biography of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz is appropriately titled “Divided Soul”. When Marvin re-located to Detroit, following his mentor Harvey Fuqua, his musical aspirations were to become an all round entertainer like Nat “King Cole, playing nightclubs like Sam Cooke at the Copacabana. It was R&B becoming Soul that was the current thing & his label Tamla Motown were in the business of providing & defining this new music. In 1963 Marvin was married to Anna, his boss Berry Gordy’s sister & by the middle of the decade he was the label’s biggest solo male star. There was a long run of hits, none of them from his album of Broadway show songs or the tribute to Cole & by the end of the decade “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” & “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” were as good as Motown got & his biggest hits yet. However, his albums were still packaged around the current hit single, it had been 1965 since one of Marvin’s songs, “Pretty Little Baby”, had featured as an A-side. The collapse in 1967 & subsequent death in 1970 of Tammi Terrell, his partner on a string of wonderful duets, greatly affected him. As a black man turning 30 Marvin inevitably had concerns about his country’s escalating war in Vietnam & the social conditions experienced by his fellow African-Americans after the hope of the Civil Rights movement. A song, inspired by an incident of police brutality (sounds familiar?), by Renaldo “Obie” Benson had been rejected by his group the Four Tops then was polished & customised by Marvin to express these concerns & how he felt about what’s going on. As Obie said “we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it”.

This growing assertiveness met with opposition from his brother-in-law. In 1970 a cover of the socially conscious “Abraham, Martin & John”, a UK success, was not released in the US & Gordy’s refusal to release “What’s Going On” as a single brought a stalemate when Marvin refused to record any further tracks. It was without the boss’s knowledge that 100,000 copies were pressed, sold out on the day of release &, proving Berry Gordy wrong, became the fastest selling record in Motown’s history. “What’s Going On” has an insistent, never strident, groove, the party chatter, saxophone intro, cool rhythm section, backing vocals & strings balanced to match the depth of Marvin’s velvety multi-tracked vocals. There’s no question mark in the title, lyrically the song is a statement, a timeless one, that the problems of society could be helped by more love & understanding. Public enthusiasm for this new considered, mature style inspired Marvin to quickly record an album which similarly approached issues of war, ghetto life, ecology & spirituality with an assured, emphatic comprehension complemented by more gentle, imaginative Funk. The record is a snapshot of 1971 that endures as social commentary with the persistence of the same issues. Popular music has sometimes produced transcendent music that can be regarded as Art. “What’s Going On” is one of those landmark records. For the first time “The Sound of Young America” branding did not appear on the label. Motown & Soul was coming of age.

Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People / Troubles A' Comin' (1971,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Back in 1971 a record took some time before it hit the upper reaches of the chart. “What’s Going On” had first entered at #55 in the middle of February. “Do Me Right” by the Detroit Emeralds, a big success at #5, had been around for 14 weeks. So “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, moving from #51 to #29 then to this week’s #10, was kind of a big deal. The vocal group, formed in high school, had been around the Chicago scene from the beginning of the 1960s. The Hi-Lites became the Chi-Lites &, with a settled four man line up Marshall Thompson, Creadel “Red” Jones, Robert “Squirrel” Lester & Eugene Record, their luck changed when they signed to Brunswick Records. With the patronage of the city’s panjandrum of Soul Carl Davis the group were more visible, their records featuring on the R&B chart while Eugene Record flourished as a songwriter for the likes of Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin & Gene Chandler. A credit for Young-Holt Unlimited’s million selling “Soulful Strut”established that Eugene had more than potential. In 1971 it was Chi-Lite time.

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The group’s first two albums were hurriedly framed around the hit singles “Give It Up” & “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)”. In fact the latter of these included seven songs from their debut. “Give More Power To The People” was a more considered, more experienced effort. Written & produced by Eugene the eleven songs showcase a range of styles & influences. That fast-rising, urgent, socially conscious title track incorporates the rhythms of Sly Stone with the vocal intricacy of the Temptations. When they slow it down the Chi-Lites can be as sweet as their fellow Chicagoans The Impressions. It is a very good album by a group who really did know what’s going on in music. Later in the year the fourth single taken from Eugene’s record, the distinctive, excellently produced slow jam “Have You Seen Her” broke out internationally & into the US Pop Top 3, keeping the album around for some time. The Chi-Lites had arrived & there was more to come from them.

Vinyl Album - Margie Joseph - Margie Joseph - Atlantic - USA

Further down the chart at #29 is a cover version that sounds rather unlikely when heard for the first time. Margie Joseph, from Mississippi, was still in her teens when she signed with the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1969, the year that Isaac Hayes released the blockbuster album “Hot Buttered Soul” which resuscitated the label & with just four tracks in its 45 minutes marked an evolution in Soul. For Margie’s debut album her producer pulled in Dale Warren, the arranger for “The Isaac Hayes Movement” to re-imagine the 1965 Supremes’ hit “Stop! In The Name Of Love”. With a nearly three minute spoken prelude “Woman Talk” before an eight minute elongation of the Motown classic I’m not sure that such a perfect Pop-Soul song has the inherent drama of the classic “Walk On By” & “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” chosen by Hayes but a shortened edit found a place on radio playlists & put Margie on the R&B chart. On her two records recorded in Memphis Margie shows she has a great voice but was unable to find success though some of her more conventional songs sound pretty good to me.

Margie moved to Atlantic Records making three records with ace producer Arif Mardin & the best New York session men. They are classy bits of work which remind me of Minnie Riperton though without the amazing vocal range. Her biggest hit was a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” which reached the R&B Top 10. Later there was an album with Lamont Dozier, one third of the team responsible for “Stop! In The Name Of Love” & many more sure-fire Motown smashes. Again it’s a well-crafted, elegant collection without finding that song to set Margie Joseph apart from the rest of the female singer field.

It’s 1972 & in Washington D.C., his birthplace, Marvin Gaye Day is being celebrated. The singer had been absent from the stage for four years, since the incapacitation of Tammi Terrell. Here, flanked by the master Motown bassist James Jamerson, he returns to perform his great hit & it’s perfect.